The feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the patronal feast day of the Carmelites (both O.C.D. and O.C.). On this day in 1251, St. Simon Stock received the Brown Scapular from Our Lady at Aylesford. It was also on this day several decades before that the Carmelite Rule was approved by the Pope after the Blessed Virgin appeared to him in a dream. Since then, the Carmelites have contributed many great saints to the Church and I would like to highlight some of their contributions today.
When one thinks of Carmelites, one thinks of the two Teresas. One of them is St. Teresa of Avila and the other is St. Therese of Lisieux. One was the great reformer and second foundress of her Order, while the other was a simple nun whose great love for others and sacrifical life elevated her to the highest honors of the altar as her numerous miracles testify.
Both were writers and mystics. St. Teresa of Avila was the greatest mystic of her time and yet she was also an intensely practical woman who despite weak health most of her life was able to accomplish what would take others several lifetimes. St. Therese of Lisieux was also a mystic, but her mysticism is very different from that of St. Teresa of Avila. It is a mysticism founded on the great love of Our Lord and how we should repay that love.
In one of her prayers, St. Therese wrote that she wanted to be immolated for love of Him. What a wonderful sentiment! To burn up out of love for Our Lord. Yet a thought that is also worthy of St. Teresa of Avila whose burning faith and zeal took her Order and transformed it beyond all recognition.
As St. Teresa recognized when she began to reform her Order, the life of a Carmelite friar or nun is not an easy one. It is one that is lived in the most dire poverty imaginable and completely dependent on the donations of those that are willing to help. Some Carmelite monasteries still exist on this basis, while others have taken up other ways of making an income including brewing coffee and publishing books.
Poverty aside, the life of a Carmelite whether female or male is almost completely contemplative. The Carmelite’s day is made up of the recitation of the Divine Office and long hours of silent prayer and meditation. In a sense, the Carmelite’s life is a living prayer that begs God for His mercy and intercession for the entire world and those that cannot pray for themselves. The Carmelites echo the words of Fr. Elias, a contemporary ascetic living in Egypt, “If I pray the world will continue, if I don’t pray the world will cease to exist.”
In this life of prayer and cloister, the Carmelite lives completely hidden from the eyes of men and the world. Very few are those who are privileged to enter behind the grill and to see how the nuns and friars live. Yet for those who have seen this, it does not surprise them in the least to see the bare sells and simple chapels. It is all very reminiscent of St. Teresa’s time and yet it is what St. Teresa would have wanted for she wanted the Carmelites to live by their primitive Rule and not to continue living as they did in her own time.
So what is the Carmelite contribution to the Catholic Church? What is it that the prayers of those countless men and women have done for you or for me? The contribution is great indeed. Many men and women have found their vocations because monk or nun living in a friary on the other side of the world was praying for them. The Church has triumphed because someone was sacrificing for her and begging God for His mercy on us. Without the Carmelites and the contemplatives, our world would have ceased to exist centuries ago.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us!
St. Teresa of Avila, pray for us!
St. Therese of Lisieux, pray for us!